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With the enormous response that I got from readers for my previous article on Youngistaan Ka WOW!, I stumbled upon an interesting comment made by Anand Bala which pointed to a number of flaws in the system which were directly related to our trouble waters. When I contacted him to come up with detailed information through a guest post for my blog, he honored my request and here I am publishing the same. Anand Bala blogs at ‘Trying to Rationalize‘ on media, politics, development and a false sense of reality.

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DisClaimer-

  1. This is a post with a lot of links that substantiate claims within the post
  2. The author of THIS post takes full responsibility for the views expressed in this article.
  3. The author of THIS post is deliberately insinuating in the content
  4. The author of THIS post is not apologetic about accusing beverage TNCs of profiteering (for private gain) from public wealth.
  5. You are free and welcome to copy and paste any content from THIS post with or without attribution.
  6. For more of my opinionated content please visit http://www.tripthi.org

There are several issues that worry me about large beverage companies like PepsiCo. They use their sheer size and muscle power to hijack was is a common property resource. The water that that they mine, excavate, bottle, and profiteer from is (i) fast depleting (ii) critical to both our urban and rural population and (iii) is not being replenished. With the above as the background, this post tries to questions some of the actions of the beverage giants in this country.

Heard of Mayilamma or Plachimada?
Many people have not even heard of Plachimada let alone Mayilamma. Plachimada has become infamous (or famous depending on your belief systems) for taking on and shutting down a Coca-Cola plant in Kerala. You can read more about the CocaColanisation of Plachimada.

A brief summary of the issue is as follows

  1. Plachimada is a small town in Palakkad district of Kerala.
  2. Coke was extracting pillaging more water than was being regenerated within the Aquifer in Plachimada.
  3. The water mining was not only disrupting the aquifer, it was also leading to pollution. For example, water in Mayilamma’s well was declared unfit for human consumption.
  4. Mayilamma started a non-violent protest in front the Coke factory in April 2002 in front
  5. That struggle, after a protracted and extended legal battle saw i) the factory being shut down ii) A govt panel appointed by the court announced in March this year that Coca-Cola would have to fork out 216 crores in damages.
  6. What is interesting about the panel’s findings/recommendations is that it proves that Coca Cola was deliberate in its negligence, had violated almost every law related to ground water and could be held liable for individual compensation in addition to what the panel has recommended.
  7. Please read this editorial from EPW for what the struggle in Plachimada means for the rest of India.

It is tragically comical that as the people of Plachimada were fighting this battle, the corporate honchos brought in their poster boys. Shashi Tharoor was one of the folks who were standing up for Coke’s rights to pillage the water in Plachimada. As *usual* he claimed no impropriety and stated that the interests of Kerala were his driving force [yeah right!].

The content of letters exchanged between Tharoor and activists is available here. Allow me to quote Mr Tharoor from this letter –

On the question of ground-water toxins and toxic sludge, I have seen reports from reputed governmental bodies, including the Kerala State Pollution Control Board and the Central Ground Water Board, New Delhi, refuting your charges. Once again, I am unable to understand the scientific basis for your continued charges against the company, and can only conclude that they are politically-motivated.

For those who have been following Tharoor’s recent controversies, the defence sounds tiresome. To set the record straight, the findings/recommendations of the court appointed panel on Plachimada are here. [Drink that Mr Tharoor!]

MAYBE (coz I can’t prove it) Coke is reciprocating the favour. Suhel Seth (the mop head who appears ranting on nightly news discussions) is connected with coke. He has been discretely defending Tharoor’s integrity on the Modi Controversy. To quote Suhel Seth …”Shashi Tharoor and Modi are in the dock for perceptual misrepresentation” he goes on to say that Tharoor must resign like Lal Bahadur Shastri. (Shastri’s ashes must be cringing).

Aquafina’s Dubious Claims
Aquafina’s labels claim to be creating a positive impact on the water table. As recent as March this year, PepsiCo has been accused of excess water extraction by Kerala’s Assembly’s Subject Committee. Their response was denial. However, I did not know whether to laugh or cry when they said that they use “6.7 per cent of the total annual water consumption in the area”. [emphasis added]

PepsiCo uses the Golden Peacock award to support their claim of being environment friendly. To jog your memory, Satyam got the Golden Peacock for Corporate governance a few months before it collapsed. I hope readers won’t mind if I remain cynical about the award.

Pepsi also claims that it has saved 2.5 million litres of water in five years. To put that PIDDLY amount into perspective –

  • The average American consumes 150 galloons of water a day
  • This is about 219,000 litres a year
  • Over years this person would have consumed just over a million litres of water!
  • Which means that PepsiCo HAS SAVED THE EQUIVALENT OF THE WATER CONSUMPTION OF 2.5 AMERICANS IN FIVE YEARS!! Hello??? Just 2.5 people???
  • Please check the links, do the math, and hopefully you too will spit on an Aquafina Label’s claim.

Remember March 1993?
I can’t forget the entire period from December 6th 1992 to March 15th 1993. I was in Bombay (it was still Bombay those days). The December riots post Ayodhya had me shaken. Some people I knew closely were injured in the Bomb Blasts that rocked Bombay on March 12th 1993. What I saw that night while we moved from hospital to hospital still gives me the occasional nightmare.

One of the accused, Sanjay Dutt, was convicted by the Trial Court under the Arms Act. He is out on bail while his case is awaiting an appeal hearing. The Supreme Court has said that he cannot contest an election. It is this man who Pepsi chooses as their ambassador in #PepsiTheGame. I find that Pepsi and Dutt make a wonderfully wicked couple.

Building Influence
Indira Nooyi, the much admired CEO of PepsiCo, is on Manmohan Singh’s global advisory council.

I would not take such appointments lightly. This gives her the ability to influence corridors of power. Such appointments are, in my opinion, a reflection of Crony Capitalism that has crept into our government in the last ten years.

The poorest of the poor are desperately seeking representation in parliament while industry captains who profiteer from common property resources like water, are invited to advise the PM. Still can’t figure out how people miss the irony of it all.

Creative Capitalism and Anemia
Bill Gates has built a reputation in the Third World for creative capitalism. His most recent misadventure with creative capitalism was a medical trial for the Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. The medical trials have been called off after protests from a wide range of groups (ranging from Indian Journal of Medical Ethics to human rights groups)

PepsiCo does not want to be left behind in the creative capitalism stakes. They are planning to start clinical trials on a medicine that claims to cure anemia in women. I find this insulting! After depriving us of water and possibly polluting aquifers (e.g. Plachimada) they want to retail a cure for Anemia to rural women [emphasis added]. An old post of mine on Pepsi and their anemia (and more) is here

On an End Note
I would suggest that we take a close look at the “The Plachimada Declaration“. If nothing else, at least read it once out of respect for Mayilamma.

Related Reading – *http://www.indiaresource.org/* *http://www.corpwatch.org/
*http://www.crocodyl.org/* *http://www.worldwaterwars.com/*
Related Viewing – * Blue Gold: World Water Wars*

Disclaimer:
The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily represent the views of the owner of this blog.

{ 38 comments… add one }

  • Very informative post.
    The least that an individual can do is shun the use of bottled drinks. These coke and pepsi’s are brazenly indulge in commodification of water, which in principle is unethical. Water is a fundamental requirement for life and cannot be an owned by a few, let apart the environmental and community exploitation.
    Kala dera – rajastahan, near to jaipur has a coke/Pepsi plant. Imagine a water drilling monster in a desert? Still awaiting justice.
    Mehandi gunj , varanasi – protest against land exploitation by coke/pepsi.
    Umpteen stories with one reason at its crux.
    We cannot afford to be a pessimist any more, and the city dwellers need to wake up and change their consuming patterns atleast.
    Me and a lot of my friends have boycotted bottled drinks/water ethically and environmentally since years now.

  • Insinuating that it is, but what I liked about this writeup is the frank way it put up the things, but what I believe is blaming capitalism is not the solution, Kerala is a communist state, it is the corruption. And we Indians are callous about our rights.

    • @Traun-
      Agree completely. Creative Capitalism, Crony Capitalism, and Maoist ideology are all extreme ideologies that are not a solution to the problems (e.g. hunger) that beset most parts of India.

      I am all for free enterprise. I am against enterprises that become “too big too fail” Capitalism that encourages small and medium business that creates an economic multiplier locally is a sustainable solution.

      • “Too big too fail” now that one is an hilariously ironical reminding me of the horror of previous 2 years.

        But sometimes these protest lose its way to extreme ideology.

        • Agree! And..
          A pathway less trodden could mean one of two thing i) we are headed in the wrong direction ii) this could be a better way to reacg where we want to go
          The problem is – we wont know till we try. :-)

  • The HPV trials in AP has been reported to have causes some complications and even death. I protest the use of the Rural Indian as guinea pigs for the testing of new drugs.
    India has no enforced rule regarding the tapping of groundwater…I think West Bengal has. In aquaculture, MPEDA has a subsidy that is given only to farms that use loose water and not to those that use groundwater….but as usual every rule is there to be broken. Hyderabad has banned bore well drilling for high raised residential buildings…enforced?…not sure.
    commercial compulsions and ethics don’t seem to go together in the political and corporate spheres…all the social good they do will never compensate the wrongs committed for commercial gains…more transparency and people participation is the only answer…the present IPL fiasco may help the cause.
    The waste of water and electricity in the west is mind blowing…and we want to have bathtubs in our homes!…the water from such a bath can suffice the daily water requirement of a poor Indian family…and the queues at roadside taps are getting longer and nosier! My husband’s cousin in the UK leaves her heating system in her house on during her 2 week visit to India…or else her water pipes will burst in winter!!!…it would have helped to empty the tank and thus the pipes…saves her the bill and the world, the pollution.

    India is like a blind person…lots of falls and lots of bumps…chaotic and confused…everybody is making use of her blindness…making hay while the sun shines…Her children have to come to her rescue…to see to it that their mother is not harmed. and WE ARE HER CHILDREN…each one of us…and WE MUST BE THE CHANGE.

    • @Nalini
      Somebody once said “Cats crawl under gates, everything else crawls under bill gates”. That sounds exactly like HPV trials.
      Agree with you 100% when you talk about the need for change that is bottom up. My only word of caution is to not package this in a western understanding of “change” (I think you are saying the same thing as well).
      A

      • Anand, I beg to differ on this. Bill Gates is doing a great job by sharing his wealth towards betterment of world health. The reported news is just a failure on our officials for going ahead without proper testing of the vaccine. It would be wrong to blame Bill Gates for this.

        • @Mohan
          Now we have another can of worms and another totally different debate. Maybe even another guest post.

          But to give you an idea of why I am so against this notion of “creative capitalism” allow me to quote Slavoj Žižek [The Elvis of Cultural Theory] on creative capitalism –

          **BEGIN- “Soros’s daily routine is a lie embodied: half of his working time is devoted to financial speculation, the other half to ‘humanitarian’ activities (financing cultural and democratic activities in post-Communist countries, writing essays and books) which work against the effects of his own speculations. The two faces of Bill Gates are exactly like the two faces of Soros: on the one hand, a cruel businessman, destroying or buying out competitors, aiming at a virtual monopoly; on the other, the great philanthropist who makes a point of saying: ‘What does it serve to have computers if people do not have enough to eat?’” -END**

          source – http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n07/slavoj-zizek/nobody-has-to-be-vile

          Side Note and Postscript – Slavoj Žižek is an extremely interesting speaker e.g. – http://bit.ly/c3UmHK

  • This is a great post. It’s given me an idea for a related post….but will need to find more stories like this. Thanks

    If you don’t mind I may recommend this to Mixx and Digg.

    cheers

    • Sure, feel free to go ahead and share it on social network sites. I have provided all the social bookmark links just before the comment section in this post.

  • coolnsmart

    Products which waste precious water should be banned. Majority of our country people cannot afford such drinks.Things done to pamper a few should be stopped.

  • thanks to mohan and anand. what an awesome post… i never prefer drinking those toilet cleaning poisons. i still remember when my friend demonstrated that in his house they use pepsi and coke as pestisides for plants and he showed how they clean the tiles. none of those drinks satisfy me and i always prefer natural fruit juices, cane juice and tender cocoanut.

    can i get the post in a doc so that i can put it on my blog with all the conttent. it is difficult for me to copy. mohan can you help me with regard to this.

    • Thanks for your thoughts! Sure, I shall mail you the content.

  • nice work.
    i always prefer neembu sharbath when i go to my college canteen with a thirsty throat. i feel fresh after drinking it.
    well, i also remember attending a conference where it was said that by drinking desi drinks, we can improve our economy…

    • Most of the desi drinks companies have been acquired by one or the other phoren cola major…

  • Elaya Kumar S

    Thanks to Mohan and and Anand Bala for the expose on Coke and Pepsi. Also for bringing to focus the Plachimada issue which was conveniently given a minute coverage by the mainstream media for obvious reasons.

    I remember when Coke started to come back after 1977 fiasco, they made it a point to penetrate every nook and corner of India. Unfortunately we have to accept that they have far easily succeeded in their efforts. People have almost forgotten that water is a public utility and Coke and Pepsi have taken advantage of it.

    Think of the audacity. They obtain licence from our Government, bottle our own water, and market it to our own people and make a profit out of it, which is taken outside the country.

    I think this guest post by Anand Bala (with extensive links to EPW) is very informative and should reach to a larger audience.

    I took a vow to deliberately avoid both Coke and Pepsi (which killed all the local brands including Limca) but unfortunately in spite of my best efforts to resist they have reached my house through my family members. But I will continue my fight and thanks for the extended support by Anand Bala (and Mohan).

    • @Elaya kumar

      Interesting observation about local brands such as Limca/Thumbs-Up – now being owned by the beverage giants. Smaller brands like Bovonto and Torino (#youremember) maybe extinct.
      The post links extensively to IndiaResource.org – most of my awareness about plachimada comes that website.
      Thanks for raising an important angle around leakage as well. (1) There is leakage of water out of the ecosystem. (2) Any revenue generated from water extraction – quickly evaporates out of the region of extraction as well.
      Around coverage of the Government Panel, the reasons for a lack serious coverage are apparent. It is the summer season and beverage companies are key players in the advertising cash-flow (for print/electronic AND english/vernacular). Some interesting (but dated) stats on Advertising by the beverage sector in India – http://www.indiantelevision.com/tamadex/y2k8/may/tam22.php . Joining the dots about media ‘coverage’ is not difficult.

      Anand

  • As the average ignorant consumer,I’d like to know the replacement for bottled water? Did I hear tap…?

    • @gyanban

      Excellent question! Glad you asked.

      It’s not about a lack of alternatives. It’s about the damage being done in someone else’s backyard. Good analogy is nuclear energy – everybody wants the power…nobody wants the power plant.

      That said, some answers to your question…

      1) Let’s take the example of Aquafina labels in the US – more here – http://www.emaxhealth.com/76/14379.html
      In other words, in some countries Pepsi is bottling tap water.

      2) If the govt of India wants to meet it’s millenium development goals we need to be getting potable water on tap and not in bottles. That’s where the eventual answer lies.

      3) When we do buy bottled water we need to ask i) where did this water come from ii) who’s helps regenerate the aquifer from where this water came from iii) Are the folks who can make a legal claim to the water making any money from the purchase?

      Examples: Where does the bottled water sold in a country like Singapore come from? Why should the People of Amethi have to lose their water reserves so that Indian Railways can get “bottle water”? I think you get the drift.

      4) Potable water is a question for the government to answer. It requires a wide range of interventions from water conservation and rainwater harvesting to ensure that water supply is universal and well maintained. In other words the government needs to worry about potable water. That’s not a responsibility for the beverage companies (god forbid).

      5) Next time, carry water from home. That’s your substitute. Better still, as @Mohanbn suggests…try the nariyal pani.

      Appreciate the jibe about tap water, could say the same thing about Mayilamma’s well :-/

      Anand

      • Swaram

        Nariyal paani is a gud answer ;) ;)

  • Bravo! Read both the previous one and this post, and commenting on both. I’ve never been a real fan of aerated drinks. Heck, I almost always head to the local juice-wala or pop a bottle of OJ rather than have a cola. Apart from the obvious environmental repercussions of water mining that’s almost single-handedly sucking groundwater dry from some regions, these carbonated drinks also harm us from the insides not unlike some forms of liquor. Sure, the soda might help digestion, but the rest isn’t going anywhere for a long long time.
    Well written both of you! Kudos.

  • A very nice post and a detailed one at that marshalling many arguments. Pepsi and Coke when hit with sledgehammers of protest have changed practice and do strive to reduce water consumption per bottle of product, harvest rainwater, treat waste water and sludge. Am not saying that they are goody two shoes BUT that they have moved. Here is the challenge – what is the ecological limits we place on the use of a scarce resource for an economic purpose? Can they set up their plants on say the Mahanadi and be given a right to flood waters to make their WOW? Is the economic use of water allowed or not? If so how much?
    How do we tackle the issue of depleting groundwater in over 264 blocks of India where it is presumably rich farmers who are doing the depleting of the groundwater and not multinational rascals :)?
    I believe we need to create democratic institutions at river basin levels and I’m talking of small rivers of the order of 20 -500 km..which will allocate water for human consumption and ecology. Unless we do that quickly we will have problems of competing use/misuse in more and more numbers.
    Great post however …and hopefully we will move from name calling to solutions :) (not that I’m suggesting that you are doing only name calling)
    regards

    • Zenrainman:

      It’s nice to get your expert comments. They bring immense value to the debate.

      Agree with you on the need for solutions. These solutions, as you suggest need to be community driven and *NOT* CSR drive.

      Around using flood-water, have not heard of them doing it – but is an interesting idea and would like to see details before commenting. I must admit though that I am cynical about beverage companies doing anything with water.

      Depleting aquifers in 264 blocks – requires the introduction of sustainable agricultural techniques. I would hesitate to put the big farmers in the same bucket as the beverage companies. They might be abusing water but the volume that they export out of the micro-system would still be less than what a beverage company would. That said, you have a point that can-not be dismissed.

      I disagree with you on crediting beverage companies with change. Why do they need activists to put pressure to do the right thing? There is so much of data available on ground-water … why do they need civil society to engage with them? It’s like crediting prohibition for the reform of an alcoholic (no credit to the individual).

      On the name calling part….I plead guilty but will not shy away from doing so.

      Anand

  • At a time when water is becoming scarce and almost a precious commodity, putting the interests of few corporate companies before that of common people is sheer recklessness and irresponsibility on the part of government.

    I agree that the water resources should not be privatized and need to be maintained by the government. But I disagree that water supply should be free. It can be free upto a certain extent. If it is totally free, what is stopping a person from using unreasonable amount of water and even wasting it? Government has to differentiate among people who use water cautiously and those who use waste it.

    I did not understand Satyam being insinuated as environmentally unfriendly. Ramalinga Raju has accepted manipulating his companies balance sheets which led to the collapse. But how does that relate to Satyam not being environment friendly?

    • Hi Krishna-
      Thanks for your comments. I think you missed a couple of points there –

      1) I never insinuated that Water supply should be free. I am not a beverage company to make such an outrageous demand. However, let me clarify that I agree with you on keeping supply as a public utility. It should be paid for by consumers at the top 40 percentile of water consumers.

      2) No claims about Satyam’s environment track record (good or bad) are presented in the post. My reference to Satyam was the *Peacock Award*. Satyam got it for corporate governance and Pepsi got it environment friendly practices.

      Thanks
      Anand

  • I have read about the Plachimada article and coke has to dole heavy compensation.Thanks for sharing.People would know what these soft drinks are causing to our eco system.

    • But 216 crores is not much for this cola giant. We can’t stop the menace just by levying fines, they should be banned forever so that they don’t mess with environment again.

  • This article is now surrounded by two big ads of Pepsi.

  • I’ve never been a fan of Pepsi or Coke. Never bought any of them, but have tasted them when they came complementary with other food or were offered free at conferences- never liked them.

    I prefer natural drinks any day. Good work here by Mohan and Anand Bala

    • Shrinidhi
      Thanks for the kind words.
      May I suggest that you add bottled water to your list of things to avoid. :-)
      Anand

      • Absolutely! Water bottles in another menace that is going to haunt us soon or later. I have an awesome video to share about these water bottles. Let me make it my next post :)

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